ORLANDO — The general managers meetings are always about information-gathering rather than actual deals. Toward that end, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington will come away from this year’s meetings with the feeling that he can make himself one whopper of a deal, or two, if he wants, and that there is plenty of interest in Boston’s starting pitching.
That’s a pretty nice position to be in.
So many other GMs and team officials have walked away from talks looking depressed, with “How on earth are we going to get better?” faces.
If he wants, Cherington could put together a big package to get Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, though that seemingly would go against the latest team philosophy of not giving out or taking on huge contracts.
If Cherington so desires, he can offer a huge haul for Giancarlo Stanton, even though that might not get it done because of Miami’s reluctance to trade the slugger.
If he wants, he could send the Dodgers a group of players for Matt Kemp and also get some salary relief from Kemp’s large contract, but then the Sox would have to put up with what they have put up with regarding Jacoby Ellsbury for a few years: injuries.
If Cherington wants, he probably could engage the Angels in a deal for slugging first baseman Mark Trumbo, at 27 five years younger than Mike Napoli, because the Angels need starting pitching and likely would be intrigued by someone such as Will Middlebrooks.
The Red Sox have continued to express interest in free agent switch-hitting outfielder Carlos Beltran and catcher Brian McCann.
Cherington spoke about the Red Sox needing to explore other avenues if they should lose out on Ellsbury, as such a player would be hard to replace. Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, is methodical when it comes to his clients, and he likes the market to develop, which can take time.
“You don’t find a carbon copy,” Cherington said. “You don’t replace the skills, but you can make the team good in other ways and other areas. You explore what available options there are out there to make us stronger in as many areas as possible.
“Ultimately our goal hasn’t changed the last few days. Just try to put together the best team we can. There’s a lot to go this winter.”
But a leadoff hitter is important. If they lose Ellsbury, then what?
“We have a number of guys on our roster who have a history of getting on base at the major league and minor league spot,” said Cherington. “If getting on base is the No. 1 criteria — and I feel and John [Farrell] feels it is — we have guys who can handle that if they needed to.
“The leadoff prototype is speed, power, and on base. If we’re getting on base at the top of the lineup, we’ll have a chance to score runs, and if we score runs, we’ll win games if our pitching is good enough.”
Jackie Bradley Jr. could take over in center and at leadoff. The Sox could move Dustin Pedroia to the top spot of the order, or Shane Victorino. Daniel Nava is an on-base machine. Victorino could be moved to center and they could acquire a right fielder (Beltran?).
When a team has excess veteran starters, good young starters knocking on the door, and good positional players, including some redundancy (at third base, for instance), there’s the potential to make big deals.
Cherington said that while he’s had conversations with teams about his pitching depth, “There is interest, but I’m not sure that pushes us one way or another. Teams are wading through the free agent market and weighing that vs. trades. They’re just gathering information like we are, but we’ve had a few conversations.”
There are teams quite interested in John Lackey, who had a breakout year after Tommy John surgery. Teams especially love the fact that he’s owed $15.75 million total for the next two years (because he had elbow surgery, he is obliged to give the Red Sox a sixth year at minimum salary).
Why would the Red Sox trade Lackey? If you believe his value has never been higher, and if you get what you want for him, isn’t it prudent to deal?
There has been interest in Boston’s other starters: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, and Felix Doubront. The pitcher the Red Sox probably would like to move is Ryan Dempster, but the interest hasn’t been as intense in him.
Doubront pitched well for the Red Sox in the World Series as a reliever, but is he someone they hope will emerge into a Lester-type starter? Will he take his offseason conditioning seriously enough to become a 200-inning pitcher?
Peavy will earn $14.5 million in 2014 and has a player option for 2015 based on innings pitched. He is a tremendous competitor who made some important starts for the Red Sox after they acquired him in July and had one strong Division Series start against the Rays. But he’s not a pitcher the Red Sox will seek to re-sign.
Lester will be playing in his option season and can be a free agent after 2014. All signs point to the sides working out a long-term deal. But if they don’t, could he be trade bait?
Buchholz is considered the most talented Red Sox pitcher, but there are injury concerns with him.
The Red Sox could be looking to add an outfield bat or first base bat depending on whether they re-sign Napoli.
The Red Sox have not made Napoli a multiyear offer, but there appears to be mutual interest. The degenerative hip condition the Red Sox discovered last winter in Napoli did not rear its head last season, but it may prevent them from going the extra mile on a long-term deal.
Napoli should have a significant market, with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Texas, San Francisco, Colorado, Washington, Miami, and the Yankees all possible suitors.
The Red Sox could deal with the Giants for Pablo Sandoval, who has a weight problem but is a terrific pure hitter.
The preliminaries began here over the past few days. Cherington will leave Thursday with his Executive of the Year hardware and the knowledge that his players are very much in demand.
The beauty of winning it all is that the GM could engage in something big, or he could implement a very conservative offseason plan.
But what fun would the second option be?Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.